Sub-Saharan Africa is presently the most severely affected region by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to the UNAIDS GAP Report, of the total population of 36.7 million living with HIV or AIDS globally, 19 million (seven out of every ten people) live in Eastern and Sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women accounting for one in four new HIV infections in the region, therefore, every day in Sub-Saharan Africa 1000 girls and young women are infected with HIV.
South Africa, in particular, has one of the fastest growing rates of HIV infections in the world with an estimated 6.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2015, an increase from 5.4 million in 2014. A high proportion of young people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa are young women and adolescents aged 15-24, where 2000 new infections are reported from this vulnerable and at-risk population group every week. HIV/AIDS also continues to be the highest leading cause of death amongst women and adolescents around the world. Failure to address the needs of women and girls living with and without HIV/AIDS in a holistic, comprehensive, coordinated and monitored manner, the global, regional and national health community will continue to be challenged in successfully accomplishing the overall mandate of reducing new HIV infections, HIV-related stigma and discrimination by 2030. Therefore, integrative development approaches to combating HIV/AIDS amongst women and girls is a key plausible solution to responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic to fast-track and accelerate efforts to ending HIV/AIDS by 2030. Below are eight approaches to help ensure success in reaching the most women and girls possible.
- A combination of prevention approaches tailored for women are vital, to predispose people to engage in unsafe behaviours. The tailored package can be presented to the target group in the form of a portable, easily accessible and readily available technological device.
- HIV related deaths result in financial difficulties and its burden to the lack of affordability of basic health care services, eventually leading to poverty, HIV/AIDS and poverty eradication should be given a specific task to tackle.
- Lack of access to education is a deterrent for women when making informed decisions about SRH issues. Knowledge and awareness play a significant role in impacting on skills and behaviour, which have the ability to address gender inequality barriers, stigma and discrimination amongst vulnerable women and those not in education, training or employment.
- Inequalities have an impact on sexual behaviour – impacting on health care, information, education – these economic and social inequalities put women at risk of engaging in exploitative sexual relationships, which put them at risk of contracting new HIV infections
- 19 million people living HIV, around the world do not know their positive status. HIV/AIDS remains dormant for several years and asymptotic in the beginning stages, which allows for significant disease progression to go undetected and lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Therefore populations with higher counts of infected persons have to be capacitated and incentivised with information, to respond to early detection and treatment of the disease, to foster a longer and healthier life.
- Mainstreaming HIV programs across sectors and industries to reach out to working women in various areas, nation and continental wide. The programs need to be cross-cutting and inclusive.
- HIV program funding institutions funding organisations responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic need to concretely integrate sexual and reproductive health services with HIV testing, prevention and care.
- HIV prevention, treatment, support, care and testing have to prioritize evidence-based strategies to monitor and evaluate impact, to ultimately reduce risk amongst women. Age appropriate and situation adherence to offering comprehensive sex education for women irrespective of age, ethnicity and beliefs, testing, counselling, support and care measures need to be institutionalized
“An AIDS-free generation is not something we can create, an AIDS-free generation is something we must empower young people to become and remain” – Charlize Theron (UN General Assembly High level Meeting on Ending AIDS, 2016)
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Cover Photo Credit: Dominic Chavez/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons